All posts by Simon

HP 3335A Synthesizer/Level Generator: a good fake transistor? at least, a working unit!

Recently, I got a very nice but non-working HP 3335A, with a defective power supply.
After a little wait, the spare PNP power darlington transistors arrived. 2N6052, pretty general purpose power transistors.

The look very shiny and heavy chromium plated, I got 4 pcs, and two had some marks of screws, and 1 had irregular connection wires. Doesn’t look like a genuine Motorola, but well, it is no rocket science anymore to make PNP darlington transistors.

After installing the transistors (I checked the contacts on the board, they seem to be good), some quick test with the load transistor showed perfect regulation of the power supply both on the -15 V and -5 V rails.

With the module assembly connected, unfortunately, the -15 V rail goes up to about -3 V, by current limit regulation.

No other way to find out than by checking module by module. The 3rd last checked turned out to be the faulty one – A7 assembly, mixer.

A little shorted 2.2 uF cap…

At the far lower left.

Replaced it with a 10 uF ceramic multi-layer capacitor.

To check the quality of the transistors, I sacrificed one piece, and cut it open – seems very solid inside, with copper heat spreader, well-mounted die, good bonding wires. So even if it has not been made by Motorola, it seems like decent quality.

Now… doing a proper test…. several hours on, to see if there are other weak links. The attenuator at least is working, and the output is good!

Banana Muffin: sooo delicious, and we don’t add any chocolate

I use this blog for various purposes, including, not to forget the well-proven recipes and to make them available for your use, if you like.

This time, we have banana muffins. There are many recipes on the internet, but none that is really as easy as this one, and that works without a mixer or other equipment.

First of all, take about

5 bananas (large), or 6 bananas (middle size) – best some really ripe bananas.
120 g butter and/or margarine (I use 80 g margarine, and 40 g butter in Japan because butter is in short supply), unsalted butter of course.
4 eggs.

The bananas cut them up a bit and use a fork to make to uniform mass. Then mix well with the nearly molten (but not hot) butter and eggs.

Then, prepare a mixture of

300 g all purpose flour
1 package vanilin sugar, or some vanilla essence.
2/3 of a pack of baking powder, about 8 to 10 g
170 g sugar
1 little bit of salt

Mix all this well as a dry powder, or put it all through a sieve if you have.

Then mix the liquid mixture, and the dry mixture well and fill into muffin papers in their forms or trays. This will yield 20 pieces. Don’t overfill, form needs to be filled to about 6 mm below the surface only.

I am baking these in a professional deck oven, 180 degC upper, 175 degC lower temperature. For 25 minutes. Sure you can use other ovens at some similar heat.

After baking, you can enjoy these immediately after cooling. May apply some powdered sugar, icing sugar, as you like.

Oooh. So delicious.

Mettler AE 163 Dual Range Analytical Balance: Swiss Made equipment, in Japan

Regularly screening through Japanese auction sites on the lookout for some gems, I found a great AE 163 Dual Range analytical balance, completely non-working condition. No display at all. From the picture it looked like a rarely used clean unit (be careful when buying some old lab equipment, some might have quite some damage by chemical vapors etc.). I scored it for 7 EUR, great!! Plus another 20 EUR in shipment charges, but at least it was packaged very well and arrived with no damage in transit.

The specifications are better than most modern analytical balances ranging in the 3-4 kEURs, with 0.1~0.2 mg linearity, built-in calibration weight (accurate to 0.2 mg – very hand to recalibrate the balance after taking it to another place, or just to confirm that it is working fine), and these were the high end balances of the 80s, still in use today in various labs. I remember to use such balance during my time as a researcher at the University of Eugene, Oregon, a while back…

The balance has about 4 circuit boards, a display/keypad (an ingenious single bar keypad, easy to handle with gloves on, etc, without disturbing the balance), a control board that also has the main power supply, a sensor board for the force compensator, and a current driver board for the coil. These balances work by force compensation, i.e., there is a magnet coil that will compensate any weight you but on the balance by electromagentic force. And there is a pretty sensitive position detector (a light gate) to keep the regulation control loop going.

After some probing (there are no schematics unfortunately, but anyway, difficult to fix because there are mask-programmed controllers and custom ICs), found that one of the supply rails is down, shorted by some tantalum. 10 uF blue paint-dip type.

Decided to replace them all, including two 1 uF tantalums. Tantalums can last a long time, but some series tend to fail one after the other.

With quite little effort (also because of the nice serviceable design of the unit), all working again.

Here is a closeup of the force coil, it should have a coil and a strong magnet inside.

The light gate of the position detector.

These will also need to be replaced, 3n3 Y-rated capacitors, getting brittle after 28 years…

The balance also had an add-on, a serial interface. The circuit is quite complicated for its function, using mask-programmed CPU, but that used the be the most reliable technology at the time (and still working today).

Also with that interface add-on, replace the tantalum caps, and the Y-rated caps (mains is fed-through to the balance from this add-on module. Not sure why they added another set of Y-caps, as there is no mains related circuitry inside (2n2 value caps).

HP 3335A Synthesizer/Level Generator: a marvelous piece of engineering and precision

For several years I have been looking for a HP 3335A, which is probably the most precision level generator that is available. Some of the more recent devices struggled to keep up with the performance, so the 3335A is still used in some calibration labs, and has thus been quite expensive even until now. This time, in Japan, I found a non working unit for 10 EUR (!!!) including a precision OCXO reference. It is a very clean and late unit (about 1991), but not showing any signs of operation.

The front panel, it is pristine, with no scratch or anything. Maybe a rarely used instrument from some remote Japanese cal lab or university.

The key part, the attenuator, it is a marvel of engineering, don’t touch it without reading first the repair instructions.

The 1990 HP catalog entry, 0.05 dB absolute level accuracy, 0.07 dB flatness. Such performance did not come cheap, 13000 US dollars in 1990….

To achieve the frequency resolution, a fractional N loop was used, it is one of the first instruments that used such PLL technique.

The RF boards are in two metal enclosures, pretty heavy extruded aluminum.

After some tests, pretty obvious faults – the -5 and -15 V rails are dead. There is unregulated voltage present, so it must be something with the regulators, a classic design with darlington pass transistors, and opamps to regulate the voltage and current.

The strange thing, with the modules disconnected, the rails come back to the precise voltages.

Made a plug with a 27 Ohm resistor to load the rails a bit, and, they immediately drop to near-zero. Seems there is not enough capability to drive current.

Took out the pass transistors, and tested these by driving 1 mA of current – but no amplification or anything. Open circuit.

Opened up both transistors, and both have the same defect – the die is not attached to the case any more, somehow, time, heat or something destroyed them (overload is unlikely, because the current regulation loop and foldback is working).

The original parts 1853-0415, power darlington, seem to be equivalent to PMD13K60 of a mysterious Lambda semiconductor company.

There are NPN and PNP complementary sets available. It is a fairly standard darlington power transistor.

From the web, we get another proof, there HP installed the parts with the original part number, rather than re-labeled to HP number.

The replace, the 2N6052 seems to be a good replacement. So I ordered a few – waiting.

As a backup, also ordered some KD366B which seem very strong and well fabricated.

The NPN transistors seem still Ok, but who knows, they might have the same manufacturing defect, so I ordered some BDX87B (which are ST devices universally compatible with various NPN power darlington transistors up to about 100 V; nowadays, all these power darlingtons seem to have the same die inside).

Now, let’s wait for the transistors, stay posted!

Fake DAC8512, AD8512, Mixup, or both?

The semiconductor industry is quite a bit plagued with counterfit parts, and there are all kinds of variations – plain fakes, parts that work similarly, parts that are actually true and real silicon dies but packaged by someone else, relabeled parts…

Troubled with these parts – clearly marked as DAC8512…

So I took a file and some patience to cut open the thing, until the bare die came to light.

Not easy to read on the picture – but my eyes are still good enough, clearly, there is the Analog Devices logo, and a marking, 17012, AD8512A.

Is this real? Did someone package AD8512 dies (probably sitting around in a box for some time, rejects or aged stock) and then put a DAC8512 label on then?

Found this picture on the web, of a genuine AD8512, decapped by a professional company – clearly, the same die.

No wonder I couldn’t get it to work as a DAC…. It is an opamp.

GHZCTRL6: a new GHz-PLL control board, and a few learnings when prototyping with cheap (fake!) parts

Recently, we have to work with many PLL designs, mostly the frontends, based on ADF41020, ADF5002, ADF4157 and similar circuits, including their programming. So I decided to design a little board that can flexibly interface to all these circuits, and provide enough power.

(1) Power supply to allow 10 V full scale output, 5V supply, 3.3V (or 3V) design. Noise should be low and flat without any discontinuities or peaks.
(2) A pretune circuit with 12 bit monotonous tunable voltage, scaleable to 0..10 Volts to control the main coil current drive of YTOs.
(3) A PLL loop amp to adjust the working range of the PLL FM tune (PLL circuit may provide 0-5 V, but need to have a driver to translate to, say 0-10 V). Used an ADA4048-2 low noise rail-to-rail opamp. These are reliable, and can tolerate somewhat capacitive loads like long cables.
(4) An isolated RS232 (TTL level) interface that can work at any reasonable baud rate (7.3278 MHz will do the trick as MCU clock).
(5) Easily in-circuit programmable, we use a common ATMEGA8L-8 MCU.
(6) Some status LEDs. Say, 3 LEDs.

After not too long, came up with this design and had it manufactured as boards at 40 eurocents a piece(!).

The schematics, they are a bit rough, but if you need more detail, let me know. All fairly standard. The regulators are good old LM317T, with 10 uF bypass caps. This gives reasonably low noise, and we can operate this without special cooling over a wide range of input voltages (15-20 VDC). Current consumption incl. LCD is about 40 mA.

The LCD, any common LCD board will do. I use a 1602A 2×16 character.

After some fiddling around, it is working temporarily. Programmed the ATMEGA8 just fine.

The LCD, it took some in-circuit repairs because after a short time of operation the contrast faded away. Note that this is a 3.3 V LCD that has an ICL7660 to convert +3.3 V to -3 V. But not with this module, just getting about -0.2 V. After replacing the ICL7660, it turned out to be a shorted capacitor (tested 10 Ohm!).

With things working pretty well, soldered in the SMD DAC, a DAC8512 (DAC7761 also works with same pinout and performance). But rather than the expensive parts for production sourced from major distributors, resorted to some low price parts purchased in sets of 10 pcs, and at hand here in my temporary Japanese workshop. Did do much D to A conversion, but rather shorting the inputs to almost ground and consuming lots of power. Not good. Some forensics showed that these are certainly not DAC8512, but something else (with diodes and circuits inside) marked as such. Strangely, from the same reel/cut tape, there are Philippines and China made parts, all a bit scratched and strangely smelling like fake. The laser marking are all the same.

Markings on the Philippines parts:

Markings on the China parts:

I have some genuine parts back in Germany but no picture handy currently. Well, I ordered some more DACs to get this to work, but won’t be an issue, the amplifier is working just fine.

HP Attenuators: another great method to fix them

Thanks to a kind contributor there is a new way of fixing the HP step attenuators that are ubiquitous in the various HP and Agilent generators, analyzers.
These attenuators exhibit some common failures modes-

(1) blown pads – fix by replacing with pads from good donor units. Keep in mind that even if the pad value is the same, there are pads of different geometry/length!
(2) mechanical issues with aged O-rings, easy to fix, best use some FKM O-rings
(3) the broken-off contact fingers, difficult to fix unless you have some precision equipment like a good milling machine or fine drill.

Here is an alternative way to fix it – use some two component epoxy glue after removing the remaining plastic parts from the contact finger by heat (heat gun or hot plate, about 200 degC).

To ensure a permanent repair, a piece of FR4 is affixed with epoxy glue. Sure enough this is not quite ideal for high GHz frequencies, but no problem up to 2 or 3 GHz.


HP 856x and 859x Series Spectrum Analyzer: Rubber keypad issues with 8561e 8562e 8563e 8593e 8593e 8596e, etc.

The famous and still very common HP 856x and 859x analyzers come in two versions of keypads, the earlier A, B models have hard-plastic buttons that go to individual switches, while the later models feature rubber keypads. Sure such rubber pads are good to touch and easy to use, however, very commonly they develop issues over time for these HP instruments, the buttons will eventually only react to the strongest push, making the analyzer bothersome to use.

Having fixed many of these, here the instructions how to fix the issue, and the repair seems to hold up well (some instruments already fixed 8 years back still good today).

To remove the keypad, you have to take off all the front panel, carefully disconnect the SMA connectors, and make sure not to damage the power cable. Best do it on an ESD surface, or other non static surface like an old moist carpet, a piece of cardboard, or wood. Make sure all is clean (this instrument doesn’t tolerate cut-off wires and solder droplets inside, floating around on your workbench).

Disassembly proceeds with some good screwdrivers.

The keypad has some extensions, these must be pushed out, don’t pull off the keypad from the front!!

Soak the whole rubber in 70% Isopropyl alcohol (I take 99.9% and mix with distilled water), good enough to soak for 5 minutes at room temperature, then just take it out, dry overnight on a paper towel, maybe cover it up with some paper if you are in a dusty workshop.

The board with the gold contacts, I first wash it with 99.9% isopropanol, then use an abrasive sponge (ultrafine), to give it a light polish, just one stroke, at an 45 degree angle over the contact area, and another stroke prependicular to it. Don’t scratch off the gold! Afterwards clean and polish a bit with a paper towel and pure isopropanol. Let it dry overnight.

Then, after assembly (don’t overtighten the SMA connectors, don’t squeeze or damage any of the cables, don’t use force on the boards), all will be good.

Working like new, how pleasant to use!

HP 8566B Spectrum Analyzer: lock and roll issues

With the 8566B main issues fixed, I carried out extensive tests, also switching it on and off many times, running it for a while. So far so good. With all the tests, discovered only one issue, unstable display for spans above 5 MHz.

The instability is difficult to see on the picture, it is a bit random, and at slow sweep, the trace becomes very wobbly and noisy. Jumps around. The common suspects are the A19, A20, and maybe A21 assemblies, these control the YTO. There are various capacitors on these boards that may fail or leak. Or some dead bits on the DAC, or similar. A bit strange that it works so well below 5 MHz span – isn’t it? Not really, because the 8566B has a different mode of operation, depending on the sweep width. Below 5 MHz, the LO stays locked all the time, above, it is only locked at the start of the sweep, and then the YTO is swept just be increasing the tuning coil current in a linear (and linearized) fashion.

After considerable study, probing, checking capacitors, including desoldering some – no success. Some more checks, solder joints fixed, finally, so occasional improvement. Touching the assemblies A19, A20, some response.
From that, suspected a contact issue with the board edge connectors, and indeed, these were not very clean. So I gave them a thorough treatment with polishing cloth, rubber erasor, alcohol. Reseated the boards, A19 and A20.

Finally, the sweep is very stable. Seems a lot of unnecessary concerns about capacitors and such, but well, finally, fixed. Screen shows a reference (stored) trace with slightly below 5 MHz, and a longer time max-hold display, slighly above 5 MHz span. Clearly, not much noise and instability. All looking good.

HP 8566B Spectrum Analyzer: Defective and fake transistors, and finally, a HP 4-404 equivalent

Recently, I got a HP 8566B at very low cost, unknown working condition of course. First, it would not power on, at least not fully. Some activity on the 8566B, but no display at the 85662A display unit.
Clearly, next step, to open it all up and do a good survey. Quickly found the issue in the 85662A power supply board. While all the other boards where good and clean, the power supply boards are directly in the airstream and showed some leg corrosion of transistors. Especially, 2n2369A transistors, and the famous 4-404 HP transistors (not that the 4-404 is anything special, but there are no replacements mentioned by HP.

Recently I found in some late 8662A boards that HP subsitute the then obsolete 4-404 with a MPS6521, a high gain NPN transistor. So I did the same and put in BC337-25 (-40 may be a closer match but not at hand here).

With these fixes, the 8566V turns on just fine, but it doesn’t turn off well. The 5.2 V rail goes high a little, and then nothing happens, no power down, when you switch the analyzer off. So measures all currents and voltages in the 5.2 V supply, and finally traced it to a defect of the main power transistor, a 2n5886 equivalent power NPN transistor in TO-3 case.

Checked it out internally, the defect is actually within the area of the bonding wire connection. So the transistor became better, non conducting, once I pulled of the bonding wires and measured directly on the die.

Quickly ordered some 2n5886 from China, a bag of 5 for less than a dollar a piece including shipping. Well, you get what you pay for. Look at the small die, the missing plate (die is directly bonded to the steel case, the bonding wires much thinner).

Doesn’t look like a genuine ON brand device, even the marking is not in accordance to the datasheet.

For comparison, the HP-Motorola part:

Tried to fix it with a 2n3055 temporarily, but it turns out there is not enough gain with that transistor. So the rail would only go up to 4 Volts.

The 2n5886 is a quite remarkable device, high current and substantial gain.

Finally, I got hold of this “Motorola” device, it may be genuine, at least it looks like solid quality. So I unstalled it for a test.

You can see it installed, a new and shiny transistor. Soldered it in generously applying solder.

Voltage is spot on without any adjustments.

Now all seems to work, except the various IF filters need a bit of alignment.

Although they are brittle, for these adjustments ceramic screwdrivers are definitely handy. Make sure to isolate other screwdrivers, easily there can be shorts when adjusting, resulting in complicated repairs of the IF signal chain.

Finally all adjusted within the toleraces, there are all too many adjustable capacitors inside this unit!!

At least, a well worthwhile repair, because the CRT is like brand new. It seems that someone had replaced it, but then put very little further use on the unit. I plan to use it together with my microwave phase noise measurement installation, for rough characterization of microwave sources prior to engaging the complicated phase noise test gear.